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Phil Lilley

Lake Level Watching...

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I've been wearing out two apps on my iPhone the last two weeks -- the weather app and the USACE Little Rock app.  After the rain stopped, it's been the corps app.  I'm watching lake levels, as we watch 23,000 c.f.s. of water move past our resort here on Taneycomo.

It's an amazing amount of water moving through the system, but what's more amazing is that Table Rock's level hardly budges after a day of 10 flood gates and three turbines of water is removed from the lake.  Beaver's level remains the same because that water is being held.  So will Table Rock's water as soon as the three lakes -- Beaver, Table Rock and Bull Shoals -- are balanced, according to the Corps.

On the USACE app, there's a section called Lake Forecast.  This gives either what a lake crested at and the date or the estimated crest level and the future date.  According to the app, Bull Shoals is to crest at 692.3 feet on May 14th.  When a lake or river crests, it usually means that's the level it stops rising and starts to fall.  If this is true, either the flow into Bull Shoals will slow or stop or water will start to be released from Bull Shoals when the lake reaches 692.3 feet.  My guess is that both will happen to some degree.

Another level and flow I've been watching is the USGS water monitoring station at Newport, Arkansas.  This information is given on the app labeled White River Basin.  The reason this level and flow is important is because this section of the White River, before it dumps into the Mississippi River, was flooded a week ago.  This is the reason the corps could not release water from Bull Shoals--it would add more water to what already was close to a record flow.  We were told by Steve Bays, of the corps' Little Rock office, that officials couldn't release water from Bull Shoals until seven days after the White River crested at Newport.

There is another section that has my interest, (and I'm not sure it has any bearing on our lakes,) but it's in the White River Forecast section.  It shows estimated flows and levels of the Mississippi River at Arkansas City, AR, which is below where the White and Arkansas rivers enter.  Today the forecast for crest is May 14th, four days from now.  Again, I'm not sure what bearing this has on the future release of Bull Shoals, but it is another piece of the puzzle that the corps uses to manage water in the system.

This morning, Bull Shoal's level is 691.01 feet.  It is rising .63 feet every 24 hours, but this rate of increase is slowing as the lake rises.  Still, it looks as if it will reach 692.3 feet on the 12th or 13th of May.  What then?  The answer and effects of that question will play out on Lake Taneycomo and the flow, or lack thereof. 

It makes sense to me that two things will happen.  One, the flow from Beaver/Table Rock will have to be slowed or stopped until Bull Shoals starts releasing water.  Bays said that the three lakes would be balanced as to volume of water in each, keeping about the same amount of freeboard space in each lake.  The term freeboard is the amount of space available for water storage within the flood pool of a lake.  Two, Bull Shoals, at some point, will have to start releasing water.  How much, how fast?  Hard to say, but I would guess that officials will release as much as they can, taking into account flows on the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.

The hope is that this water will be moved out of the White River system before more rain falls in the basin.  A little rainfall in spotted areas won't hurt, but heavy, widespread rainfall will cause more flooding, especially in the tailwaters. The lakes simply can't hold much more runoff.

Now, what that does for boating and fishing on Lake Taneycomo . . .

Fishing off the bank or from docks has been tough with this high flow of water.  Fish tend to seek out slower currents in which to float and pick off food as it flows by.  This could be along the bank, behind structures in the water or on the bottom where the current is slower.  Getting your bait or lure to these spots, even fishing from a boat, isn't the easiest thing to do without practice and a keen sense of where your bait is at any given time.

I've said in past reports and articles, that if you're not losing jigs and rigs on the bottom, you're probably not catching fish.  If you're not feeling the occasional tick of the bottom when drifting, your bait isn't being seen by trout on the bottom.  Two things to do --  add weight and/or add line.  No three things --  change where you throw the line.

If I'm having trouble getting down in fast, deep current, I won't throw directly upstream as usual.  I'll throw to the side or just a little downstream to the side and let the sinker take my bait to the bottom.  Then at some point I'll have to reel back in and repeat when the line moves upstream and stops bumping the bottom.

There is a fourth thing you can do, but it takes time to learn how to manuever.  It's using your trolling motor to slow the boat down, allowing the weight to drop down to the bottom with the slack line this creates.  But if you slow the boat down too much, your weight and bait will catch up to the boat and probably get hung on the bottom.  This technique is a little tricky.

Now if and when the water slows down, I think fishing is going to get really good!  The fish will have had a vacation from fishing pressure for almost two weeks and the absence of high, fast water will make getting to the fish much easier.  During this time, the Missouri Department of Conservation have been stocking rainbows as usual, so there will be lots of fish in the lake to catch.  With Memorial Weekend just around the corner, and the influx of fish normal stocked for the busy weekend, trout fishing should be excellent.

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After writing this article, I see on my weather app the rain forecast is increasing from 1.5 to 2.3 inches of rain for the northern portions of the White River basin, mainly Table Rock.  Back last week when the last bit of rain was passing, the Corps said we could handle a 2-inch rain.  Now that the levels have dropped and the ground has dried out somewhat, I think a 2-inch rain won't hurt much.  It may push them to release water from Bull Shoals early though.  That wouldn't be a bad thing.

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Great explanation on all things White River and drift fishing.  The 4 items you mentioned to a lot of folks may seem trivial, but in fact it is a combination of many things when drift fishing that yield the best results.  Another if the amount of weight, it is a very fine line.  As you mentioned you want a tick, not a hard thumping drag or a steady bounce.  You will lose rig after rig doing this.  There is a very fine balance.  Yesterday it took me about 2 hrs. to come up with the perfect drag, with not only weight but location.  We are not just drifting, mostly we are working seams drops and edges.  Big hole right now is holding fantastic fish and you want to hit it right in the middle on every pass. I Don't think I have failed to get a bite right at the edge every pass the last couple of days.

Right now on 6 pound test line 3/16th. to 1/4 depending on the bait and your drift pattern.

A trick that I'm also doing with the boat is slowing down the drift, using the trolling motor.  You can do this two ways, one, by moving sideways and also by either letting one end of your boat or the other, and I use the bow and let it get down stream ahead of the stern a bit and then correct.  You will immediately see your lines slack and tighten and start to hit as it allows the boat to lose speed.  Today we were drifting from 4.7 to 5.1.

If you are letting line out to increase your depth don't just open the bail, feed it out slowly until you feel it touch, if you just let it fall it will hang up a huge percentage of the time.  Also when you are beginning your drift as soon as you cast, pick  up the slack immediately.  This will also allow the bait to fall  on a tight line and not free fall into a snagging position.  Lots of tips and tricks to help get another bite. 

I only lost 4 baits today and none yesterday and we are just slaying the fish, using these techniques.  Phil also mentioned a 45 degree cast and that is a fantastic way to slow the bait and let it gain depth.  One thing to remember if you are fishing a drift rig however is to not let it get totally to the side and start to roll or you got yourself a messy nest.

Take your time don't get frustrated, be safe and enjoy what we have going right now.  Have at least 2 rods rigged per person to start and have all of your baits, weights and materials right where you need them so you don't have to dig thru your big boxes while you are drifting that fast.  Be prepared.

Good Luck.


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They reduce flow from 23,000 to 20,000 by adjusting turbine flow.  Nothing wrong with any turbine.  The turbine down for maintenance is due back on line by next week.

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Thanks a bunch to Phil for the info on the apps. A ton of info is available but if u dont know what it means and how it relates to other info its pretty hard to figure out what it all means. This made things make more sense.


Thanks to both Bill and Phil on the technique tips. As I've experienced its a long learning curve without some of the valuable info you all provide!

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